It sounds as if Roger Goodell isn’t willing to wait around for the White House or anyone else to tell him when the National Football League is “ready” to get back to business. According to the Associated Press, the league sent out a memo to all 32 teams yesterday telling them that they can begin to get back to their normal preparations for the 2020 season on Tuesday. Of course, they’ve included a lot of caveats and hoops to jump through before they can begin and the reopening will only happen in phases. Let’s just say that a first look at the plan leaves me feeling a bit dubious at best.
NFL teams can begin reopening their facilities on Tuesday if state and local governments will allow it.
In a memo sent to the 32 teams Friday by Commissioner Roger Goodell and obtained by The Associated Press, he stressed that the clubs must be “in compliance with any additional public health requirements in their jurisdiction, and have implemented the protocols that were developed by (league medical officer) Dr. (Allen) Sills and distributed to all clubs on May 6.”
Facilities have been closed since late March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not that I don’t want the NFL to crank things back into gear and get ready for the season, but there are obvious issues with this plan that should raise concerns. The first (and biggest) issue is Goodell’s stipulation about “if state and local governments will allow it.” Different parts of the country have been impacted by the pandemic in wildly varying degrees, with some areas getting absolutely hammered while others saw only a relative handful of cases. Also, regardless of the severity, our state, county and municipal elected executives have taken significantly different approaches when deciding whether to lock their people down or let them largely go about their lives while taking sensible precautions.
The Cowboys and the Texans might be fine because Governor Abbott seems to be moving forward briskly with the Texas reopening plan. (Well, the Mayor of Houston is another question, but you get the point.) What about the Detroit Lions, however? Gretchen Whitmer is being sued because she didn’t even want people driving back and forth between their own homes. Do you really think she’s going to sign off on a stadium opening up? Out in Maryland, Governor Hogan is trying to launch a statewide reopening this week, but the Mayor of Baltimore has already said he’s not going to comply. The Ravens could be in for a long wait.
And that’s the problem. While I definitely oppose a one-size-fits-all reopening plan for states, preferring to allow counties and cities to decide for themselves based on the best local information, the NFL isn’t in the same category. Every team needs to be starting from the same footing. If some teams are allowed to get started before others, they are automatically gaining an unfair advantage.
Granted, phase one of Goodell’s plan doesn’t really allow full practice sessions. The coaches aren’t allowed to come to the facility and the only players being let in would be the ones dealing with injuries who require rehab. The medical and training staff would be brought back to work for that purpose. I suppose that wouldn’t give them too much of an advantage initially since the players can probably get some of the best medical care possible anywhere in the country. But letting some teams go to “phase one” means they have a head start on reaching “phase two.” And at that point, real workouts and practice sessions will be taking place. If every team can’t reach that level of preparation at the same time, then none of them should be allowed to.